Chef Curtis Stone Takes THR's Taste Test

The TV host and judge, a mentor on Food Network’s new series 'All-Star Academy' premiering this Sunday, talks Rocky Mountain oysters, beet dip, raviolo and his granny’s roast lamb.

Australian food phenom Curtis Stone – who made his name stateside by hosting Bravo’s Top Chef Masters before proving that he doesn’t just play a chef on TV by opening his tasting-menu-only Beverly Hills restaurant Maude to critical acclaim last year – has joined Bobby Flay and Ted Allen (Chopped) for Food Network’s new home-cook competition series All-Star Academy. It debuts March 1.

“Cooking competitions are of course great fun for chefs to be involved in, since we’re naturally competitive – you have to be trying to be better than the next guy,” he says. “But this one is particularly great because I get an opportunity to be competitive but to take people who don’t have the same level of experience and help them on their own food journeys – to see that ambition in their eye; the same ambition we all had when we got started – and nurture it and celebrate it.”



Current Fixation
“Fennel. It’s such a unique winter/spring ingredient. I’m really dissecting it at the moment and falling in love with all of the ways it can be made delicious from fresh and shaved really super thinly right through to using a fennel vinegar as a part of a vinaigrette for a salad. At my restaurant, Maude, we choose a hero seasonal ingredient each month (March’s muse is fennel), and we build a degustation around the hero featuring it in every course from small bites to petit fours. For a chef, this is a really interesting and exciting monthly challenge.”

Known for Cooking
“Handmade pasta, both at home and at the restaurant. My wife, Lindsay, loves fresh pasta. So to spoil her, I make a fancy one with beautiful, fresh seafood like lobster, scallops and crab. As I mentioned above, we change our degustation menu monthly at Maude, but the one thing that remains constant is we always have a handmade pasta dish on the menu. My personal favorite is a nice, big piece of raviolo filled with all kinds of seasonal fare. In January, our raviolo was actually a vegetarian dish (a first since opening in February 2014) with radicchio, kale, escarole, pomegranate seeds, roasted celeriac, almonds, green olives and chervil veloute – veloute is a classic, velvety French sauce. It was really a lovely dish.”

Go-to Take-Out
“Given the proximity to Mexico, L.A. has great Mexican eateries in every pocket of town. I suppose I don’t really order it in for home because Mexican is best fresh and hot off the stoves. I find myself going again and again to El Carmen in West Hollywood to wash down a round of tacos with their sought-after spicy margarita – it’s fuss-free and hits the spot.”

Adventurous Bite
“Rocky Mountain oysters. Doesn’t sound crazy, does it? Though alarm bells should ring when you hear ‘mountain’ and ‘oysters’ in the same sentence, right? Rocky Mountain ‘oysters’ are actually deep fried cow’s testicles. I tried this in the Midwest, and it is quite a normal thing to eat there. I’m an adventurous eater, so I’m not overly phased by the ‘weird’ stuff.”

Simply Won’t Eat
“I’m not a big fan of the taste of licorice.”

Favorite Snack
“Snacking – I’m the king of it. If there is food around (on the kitchen bench top, on one of my team member’s desks), I can’t help but to help myself. It’s kind of terrible, but I’ve always been a greedy little monster – still am. I’ve dedicated an entire chapter of my new cookbook, Good Food, Good Life (on sale March 10) to snacks. For something on the healthier side, I like to dip freshly grilled flatbreads into some sort of yummy dip. At the moment, I’m all about beet dip (that vibrant purple color, OMG!) finished with a sprinkle of dukkah for crunch – dukkah is a Egyptian spice blend loaded with a unique combination of coarsely ground toasted seeds and nuts. Like most people, I like naughty snacks too, so you’ll find a few chocolate numbers in my snacks chapter.

Dietary Regimen
“Truthfully, I don’t have a regimen, firstly because there is no typical day for me, and secondly, I like to mix things up often. I couldn’t just have the same daily or weekly routine when it comes to food. A balanced diet and seasonal eating is my regimen, if you like. I’ve always been an advocate for seasonal eating. You can’t go wrong. I’m on this huge drive to get people to eat seasonally. It’s better for the country, it’s better for the farmers, it’s better for the growers, it’s better for us. It means the food is more plentiful, it’s cheaper, it tastes better. It makes sense.”

Preferred Company
“Lindsay, my wife. She’s the perfect dining companion – she’s funny as all hell (check out her Instagram; people get a lot of laughs out of it! I always tell her she should write a blog), plus she loves and eats everything. We enjoy most of the same sorts of things, so that makes it easy when it comes to share plates. Our schedules are pretty slammed these days, now that we have two little boys and we’re both busy with work, so it’s really nice when we can come together and have a bit of a chill-out over some good food, wine and music.”

Big Wish
“L.A. is in a really great place right now in terms of our restaurant scene and is continuously gathering strength. It's super-experimental, progressive, and it’s obviously a sprawling city with a huge population, so there’s always someone new and interesting popping up and having a crack at a piece of the pie. At the same time, though, there are those institutions and iconic restaurants like Wolfgang’s Spago that never go out of fashion, so we have a good mix of classic and contemporary. I think if we – L.A. – continue in the direction we’re heading, we’ll further cement our place as a destination dining city on the world map.”

Embarrassing Experience
“I remember about 20 years ago, I took a nice gal to this top-notch, award-winning restaurant in Melbourne called Flower Drum, which offers Cantonese cuisine. Beautiful, beautiful food, however, I had an issue on my hands – I hadn’t yet mastered the art of using chopsticks. I remember a slippery little dumpling flying across the room and pretending as if, nope, nothing happened, nothing to see here. Never again! I made it my mission to get chopsticks down pat.”

Guilty Pleasure
“Everything chocolate. I’m a self-confessed chocoholic, so if it’s on the menu, in the form of a souffle, macaroons, pots de creme, sabayon, a humble chocolate cake … that’s what I’m ordering.”

Last Meal
“It’d be my granny’s roast lamb. You know what, come to think of it, it was always a little overcooked, but there’s just something really delicious and special about your granny’s cooking.”